Do Millennials Need A Living Room?

Amy Walker
Alongside having a stable job, savings and a mortgage, adults born after 1980 who don’t live with their parents have also sacrificed another luxury afforded to generations past: personal space.

House shares, which accounted for 7.9 percent of UK homes in the 2011 census and now undoubtedly account for more, are a staple fixture of the millennial lifestyle.

The constant milk-stealing, shower-hogging, sofa-shagging reality of these environments can prove as testing for young people as landing that first “proper job”.

So, the proposal that young people could have their own downtown pad – as long as they’re prepared to eat, sleep and pretty much defecate in the same room – may initially seem like another kick in the teeth rather than a solution.

In a paper published by the Adam Smith Institute – a think-tank which espouses capitalism as the solution, not the cause of the housing crisis – Patrik Schumacher, who currently heads Zaha Hadid Architects, said housing regulations were locking millennials out of the housing market.

Instead, he suggested that “hotel room-sized” studio flats could cut costs and offer young professionals homes bang in the centre of London because “millennials don’t need living rooms.”

But, is living space important?

Patrik Schumacher of Zaha Hadid Architects argues that the minimum size of new-build fats is too small. Photo by Jimmy Chang

Breathing space is a luxury, anyway

First things first, as well as removing inevitable bitterness towards housemates from the picture, shoeboxes in zone 1 could cut out commutes.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Sophie Jarvis, a policy advisor at the Smith Institute, said: “If developers were allowed to build smaller houses, millennials could live in a compact, ergonomic flat in Zone 1 or 2, instead of a run-down, cold flat in at the end of the Central line or half-way to Hull.”

Although England already has the smallest average house size in Europe, some argue that the minimum size of 38 square metres on new-build flats means they’re disproportionately expensive.

And, if you’re a young professional who’s out and about all the time, why do you need to pay for space to hang out in? One 23-year-old tells me she’s “indifferent” to a living room and that “people tend to socialise in public spaces rather than homes in cities.” Which is perhaps true considering that we’re a generation who, in the face of not being able to invest in anything tangible, have turned to splashing out on Instagram-able experiences.

There is also the argument that if you end up in a rabbit hutch, it might eventually grow on you. According to a study published in the journal of happiness, housing size has little effect on the well-being of occupants and any positive effects diminish over time.

On top of that, when there are no kids to worry about, young people require less space to ‘put things.’ Generation rent is minimalist at heart: they don’t do CDs, they sell everything on Depop and – although the bulk of their money goes on keeping a roof over their head – live on Pret sandwiches and restaurant food so that there’s no need to put anything in the fridge. Just think, in the same way that your mobile is now your music player, TV and computer – your bed could be your dining table and the chairs too!

The current state of the housing market means it’s difficult for first-time buyers to get onto the property ladder. Photo by Patrick Perkins

Living space is really important

Jokes and practicalities aside – like not being able to invite mates over or as Connor, 24, puts it, “being able to have a serious relationship for the time you live there” – our habitats can significantly impact our mental health.

Susan Clayton, an environmental psychologist at the College of Wooster, says that for many people, their home is part of their self-definition, which is why our parents and grandparents spent so much money at B&Q and switched between terracotta and magnolia walls every three years or so.

If your home extends to five square metres, there might not only be knock-on effects for your sense of self but a merging of all aspects of your life. Paige, 23, notes that she likes having somewhere to “just chill out and shut off”, a notion that before the housing crisis was never viewed as a luxury, but as a necessity.

Coupled with that, is the fact that living in urban spaces has been heavily linked to depression by the Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health, and if we lived in places dictated by Schumacher’s ideology then even our parks – our oasis’s – would be privatised.

For some ‘millennials’, the distance put between their home life and concrete jungles by having to live on the outskirts of a city is not something they’re opposed to. Sam, 22, who lives South of the Thames, for example, says “central London is shit” and gets up an hour early so that he can avoid rush hour and enjoy the journey to his sales job in Belgravia.

But, even if you did fall in love with the idea of a central studio flat without living space, unsurprisingly, the proposals from the Adam Smith Institute’s paper come without guidelines on how the housing crisis wouldn’t be exacerbated by landlords snapping them up.

And, while it would be easier to stomach claustrophobia in the knowledge that it was just part and parcel of the young working life, with the average deposit for a house in London being £95,469, the prospect of millennials without a trust fund ever getting a semi with living space and sustaining a career in the city seems dubious.

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